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Uthink, IThink, What Does Vice-President Brown Think?


I'm from Central and I'm here to help.
Please, tell me what is on your mind?


"Vice President Brown noted that the President has said that the top three is an aspiration for excellence, not a destination."

Faculty Consultative Committee, Thursday, February 21, 2008

Vice President Brown began by telling the Committee she had no formal agenda or particular issues to bring up but that she did want to make a few comments about strategic positioning. Her visit is primarily so she can listen and learn about issues of concern, both about strategic positioning and because President Bruininks has now been in office for five years: are there things they should be paying attention to?

Professor Durfee then recalled that the Committee had received a checklist from the Provost with all of the recommendations from the task forces and the status of each one. One had the impression that if all the items were checked off as completed, the University would be among the top three. What she has been talking about sounds more strategic. Will the Committee receive another checklist from the Provost? Vice President Brown said while she could not speak for the Provost, she doubted another such list would be prepared.

Professor Windsor commented that about half of the list of items Vice President Brown enumerated require money. Where will the funds come from? Who decides how to allocate the money? Given that the source of funds is finite, who decides how much will go to each unit?

Professor Windsor said it was her impression that compacts tend to keep the operations adequate, which is not the same as moving to the top three. There needs to be a large influx of funding to move to the top three. Vice President Brown responded that money is not necessary to do everything; the University also needs to change how it thinks about some things (for example, carrying out the administration of the institution more efficiently and effectively so that more money is available for academic activities).

Professor Elliott said that around this table over the last several years the Committee has talked about the perception that strategic positioning started out on a broad scope with a lot of participation, but as they see decisions made and where investments are made, the process is led from the top and people are told what to do. How are faculty involved in these decisions? Is the process administration-led or have they found ways for everyone to work together? Vice President Brown said she hoped that everyone was working together.

Professor Dahlberg followed up on Professor Windsor's line of questions. Across the country, state funds for public universities are declining and there is nothing to indicate that pattern will change. Those in the trenches want the University to move up in the rankings, but that takes money.

In terms of resources, as all units using resources as effectively and efficiently they can, are they the right size, and do they have the appropriate staff? She [Brown] said she is not suggesting that any unit has too much money, but when one talks about making choices, one must be sure that units are using money effectively and efficiently. That is the point of accountability.

In terms of bottom-up versus top-down, Professor Chomsky said, no one is talking about the connections between the task forces and the proposals now. It would make a difference to the faculty to be able to see the connections. Everyone recognizes that the University cannot do everything at once, but there is a sense that after all the task force recommendations, everything is now administratively-driven. Vice President Brown said she could not agree.

Professor Durfee said the Committee has heard over and over about the importance of supporting core disciplines and that perhaps there should be less emphasis on central investments in new multidisciplinary centers if they come at the expense of supporting the core. Vice President Brown said she understands the message but since she is not an academic officer she would not try to respond but rather would pass the message to the President.

Professor Wambach said that if everyone must do better with no additional funding, how can the institution see faculty productivity gains? Faculty have the same number of classes, the same amount of time needed for advisees, the same demands for grant-getting, and so on. Where will an increase in productivity come? Faculty are at the limit of the amount of time they have to spend, and the money can't come from the supply budgets—cutting the number of paperclips won't help much. How will the University get to the top three with the horses it has? Vice President Brown said she would again defer on answering but would communicate the message to the President.

It is a question of priorities when there is a fixed amount of money, Professor Dahlberg said. The bottom line is that any great university is a great faculty, reflected in Nobels, membership in the national academies, etc. As public funding declines, the University must develop the private-university model-and there are no large private universities. They focus on some number of core departments. He went on to say that his experience on the budget-model subcommittee led him to conclude that in the view of many the budget model is convoluted with strategic positioning and so many of the comments from people the committee interviewed dealt more with strategic positioning rather than the new budget model. In those comments no dean north of Washington Avenue believes that he or she gained resources with the budget model.

Professor Durfee suggested, apropos the top-three goal, that as the University proceeds, there may be a change in goals and the endpoint may not define them. Vice President Brown noted that the President has said that the top three is an aspiration for excellence, not a destination.

That last piece of doublespeak says it all.

And so it goes.

These issues have been on the table for several years now as anyone who reads minutes from such committee meetings is well aware.

The concerns have been consistently ignored by our central administration.

Occasionally they will stop by and enthusiastically thank faculty members for their input. Or send some poor soul like Vice President Brown to serve as flak catcher.

Meanwhile, OurLeader and OurProvost motor along making claims of varying intensity about "ambitious aspirations to become one of top three public universities in the world [sic]." This nonsense continues unabated witness OurLeader's recent state of the university address. Such pomposity is laughable given our present situation. Does OurLeader think that faculty do not know what resources would be required for this ambitious aspiration? Or is this merely a cynical ploy to try to extract more money from the state legislature?

Let's commit to being one of the better universities in the BigTen.

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